The PCC’s refusal in 2003 to investigate Rebekah Wade for paying police bribes

16-March 2003

Prof Robert Pinker

Acting  Chairman

Press Complaints Commission

1 Salisbury Square

London EC4Y 8AE

cc  Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP,   Frank Doran MP,  John Thurso MP ,  Rosemary McKenna MP,  Alan Keen MP,  Derek Wyatt MP,  Debra Shipley MP,  Chris Bryant MP, Julie Kirkbride MP,   Michael Fabricant MP,  Adrian Flook MP, Presswise

Dear Professor Pinker,

The payment of money to police for information

On  11 March 2003,  the editor of the Sun newspaper,  Rebekah Wade, admitted before the Culture,  Media and Sport  Commons Select Committee that while she had been an  editor with News International  she had paid police officers for  information. The information was given in answer to a direct question from the  Labour MP,  Chris Bryant. I enclose a  Daily  Telegraph report  dated 14  March 2003 which contains details  of  Miss Wade’s  admission.  I was there in person when she  made the  admission.

By  paying police officers  for information,  not only  does  the police  officer  commit a criminal offence under  the  Public  Bodies Corruption  Act  1889 (as  amended   by the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1916) in receiving the  money  or other material inducement,  so does the person paying  the  bribe.  Anyone of normal intelligence will  realise  that  bribing police officers is illegal.

In addition,  all police officers sign the Official  Secrets Act (OSA).   They   commit a  criminal  act by  supplying  information covered by the OSA.  Any information relating  to   police work will be covered.  Similarly, a person  receiving  information where they know the supplier is in breach of  the  OSA by  supplying it  commits an offence by  receiving the information.  Both formal training courses for  journalists and the various books designed to instruct journalists in the relevant areas of the  law cover the OSA’s  implications for journalists.   Journalists will consequently know that police officers have signed the OSA and be aware of the implications for  themselves  of   receiving information   from   police officers.  Even  if no money changes hands, the  journalist still breaks the law if he knows he is receiving  information from someone who has signed the OSA.

The PCC’s Code of Practice states in its preamble that  “All members  of  the press have a duty to  maintain  the highest professional  and  ethical  standards…”    Clearly bribing  police officers and receiving illicit information from them does not come  under the heading of “the highest professional  and ethical standards…”    No public interest  defence  is  contained within the Code for this general duty.

The PCC   Code  article 7.1 states  Journalists should  not  generally  obtain or seek to obtain information  or pictures through  misrepresentation  or  subterfuge.”   Clearly the  bribing of police  officers comes  under the  heading  of subterfuge.  There is a public interest defence to the use of  subterfuge, but  clearly  corrupting police  officers and  committing  serious  criminal offences can never come  under that heading.

The PCC Code article 9 states “Payment or offers of  payment  for articles,  pictures or information should  not be made  directly  or through  agents  to witnesses  or   potential witnesses in current or criminal proceedings or  to people engaged in crimeor  their associates–  which  includes family,  friends, neighbours and colleagues  — except where  the material concerned ought to be published in  the public  interest and the payment is necessary for this to be done.”

Clearly,  any police officer is likely to be  a  potential witness  if he  or  she  has  access  to readily  saleable  confidential material,  because otherwise they would not have  easy access to it.  That applies particularly to documents or  computer files.  Hence, the public interest is unlikely to be  served  by accepting any information from a police  officer because  the chances are that it will  compromise a criminal investigation.

I ask you to investigate Miss Wade’s admission of  criminal  behaviour  under the various heads described  above, namely,  the general ethical imperative and   articles 7 and 9.

I also enclose a letter from the Mirror editor Piers  Morgan  to the PCC dated 16 Oct 1997.  This contains an admission of  the Mirror  receiving information  illegitimately  from the police.    The PCC has previously refused to investigate this  admission.  I ask you to do so now.  Doubtless, you will  be  happy to  supply  me with an explanation  for the  original refusal which I can pass onto the  select committee.

In view of  the Culture, Media   Select  Committee’s  interest,  I am  sure that you will wish  to begin  a  most thorough investigation immediately and to give the matter all  priority.

Copies  of this letter have been sent to every member of  the  select committee.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————————————————-

Press Complaints Commission

From the Deputy Director

31 March 2003

Robert Henderson Esq

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your letter of 16th March.

Much of it seems to be concerned with allegations which, if true, would be criminal matters. The PCC is not charged with  investigating alleged breaches of the law. That is a matter for the police.

Regarding your other point about the Daily Mirror,  you do not seem  to provide  any grounds for the PCC to re-open its file on  this matter, which  is  now of course several years old and which has  in  any  case already been put to the Commission for a decision on whether or not to investigate it.

Yours sincerely

Tim Toulmin

1  Salisbury Square London EC4Y 8JB Telephone  020 7353  1248  Facsimile  020 7353 8355

—————————————————————————-
2 April  2003

Prof Robert Pinker

Acting Chairman

Press Complaints Commission

1 Salisbury Square

London EC4Y 8AE

cc  Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP,   Frank Doran MP,  John Thurso MP,  Rosemary McKenna MP,  Alan Keen MP,  Derek Wyatt MP,  Debra Shipley MP,  Chris Bryant MP, Julie Kirkbride MP,   Michael Fabricant MP,  Adrian Flook MP, Presswise,   Sir Harry Roche (Pressbof)

Dear Professor Pinker,

The payment of money to police for information

Nick  Toulmin has replied on your behalf  to my letter of  16  March.   I am afraid Mr Toulmin’s reasons for failing to act in the cases of Rebekah Wade and Piers Morgan literally  make      no sense.

Mr Toulmin  rejects the idea  of  investigating  allegations which would criminal offences if true on the ground that they  are ” a matter for the police”.  This repeats the  position taken by the PCC before the Media, Culture and Sport select  committee (CMS) on 25 March, evidence which I witnessed.

During  that evidence,  Mr Black claimed that the PCC  could not act where the complaint involved criminal issues.   This   is untrue.  My complaints to the PCC in both 1995 and 1997 involved   illegal behaviour,  including   criminal  libel,  incitement  to violence  against me,  incitement to  racial  hatred against me and   assault. At no point did the PCC say they could not act on my complaints because of the  criminal  actions.

More fundamentally the PCC Code of Practice itself makes  it  clear that matters which are potentially criminal  acts can be adjudicated  by  the PCC.  Clauses  1, 7,    raise  the  possibility  of criminal libel.  Clauses 4, 8, 10  and  12  concern behaviour which  could be the subject of a  complaint under the Harassment Act, a complaint of  criminal trespass  or action for a breach of the peace.   Clause 5  forbids  the  interception  of private telephone calls,  ie phone tapping,  which is illegal under any circumstances when committed by  a  private  individual. Clause  13  complaints  could  concern  breaches of  the sub judice rules or be a contempt of  court.  Clause  15 could  concern  breaches of  the  various  Race Relations legislation.  Clause 16 could involve a  series of  offences  ranging from  fraud to obtaining  money by  false pretences.

All this   being  so,  I ask the  PCC  to proceed  with  an   investigation of Rebekah Wade’s admission of paying policemen  for information.

As for Piers Morgan,  the fact that my original complaint was not acted upon by the PCC says everything about the PCC  and nothing  about the strength of the complaint.  You  have  a letter from Morgan (addressed to the PCC) in which he  admits  receiving information illegitimately from the police.  I  ask you to both investigate the complaint now and explain why  it was not investigated originally.

Civil redress

Mr Black also claimed during his evidence to the  CMS  that  the PCC would not act where civil action was a possibility to  gain redress  for  the complainant.  Again, in both  my complaints  in 1995 and 1997 and in my further  complaint in  2000 against the Observer journalist Nick Cohen of  obtaining  valuable  information by subterfuge,  there were clear  legal options had  I had the money to take them.

In both  1995 and 1997 there were gross libels  of  me. For  example,  the 13  March 1997 Mirror story  (see folio  15)   completely   fabricated this quote which they  attributed to me: “If he [Blair]  gets elected he’ll let in all the blacks  and Asians”, – see folio 15 – and falsely claimed that  my  letters  to the Blairs were “…full of racist filth”  In addition,  I had the option of  actions for malicious falsehood   and the obtaining of valuable documents by false pretences.   It  was   never suggested  that  my complaints  would  be disallowed because of I had these theoretical options.

As with criminal matters,  the PCC Code undermines the claim  that cases  cannot  be accepted. Clauses  1,3  and 7  will  probably involve defamation – clause 2 also has a bearing  if  no opportunity for reply is given.  Clauses  4, 5, 8, 10, 12,  13, 14,  15 and 16  could all be the subject of tort actions   and/or applications for injunctions.

Please   explain to me why Mr Black was allowed to  make his obviously false claims to the CMS  without contradiction from  the other PCC representatives.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————————————————-

28 April 2003

Prof Robert Pinker

Acting  Chairman

Press Complaints Commission

1 Salisbury Square

London EC4Y 8AE

cc  Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP,   Frank Doran MP,  John Thurso MP ,  Rosemary McKenna MP,  Alan Keen MP,  Derek Wyatt MP,  Debra Shipley MP,  Chris Bryant MP, Julie Kirkbride MP,   Michael Fabricant MP,  Adrian Flook MP, Presswise,   Sir Harry Roche (Pressbof)

Dear Professor Pinker,

I am  still waiting for a reply to y letter of  2nd  April.  Please reply by return

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————————————————-
12 May  2003

Sir Christopher Meyer

Chairman

Press Complaints Commission

1 Salisbury Square

London EC4Y 8AE

cc  Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP,   Frank Doran MP,  John Thurso MP ,  Rosemary McKenna MP,  Alan Keen MP,  Derek Wyatt MP,  Debra Shipley MP,  Chris Bryant MP, Julie Kirkbride MP,   Michael Fabricant MP,  Adrian Flook MP, Presswise,   Sir Harry Roche (Pressbof)

Dear Sir Christopher,

You will  find two letters enclosed which are  addressed  to  Prof  Pinker  and  dated 2nd and 28  April. They  have  gone  unanswered.

The letters concern (1) evidence given by Guy  Black before the Culture Media and Sport Commons select committee and  (2)  the  question  of  information obtained  by  the press by illegitimate means from  the police with particular reference  to admissions  of such behaviour by Rebekah Wade  and  Piers Morgan.

This stupidly arrogant failure to address matters which  are  both serious and of general public interest is all of a  part with the general PCC behaviour when confronted with difficult issues. It is one of the prime reasons why the PCC is held in contempt  by most people who have ever used it – I write as a  three time user.

As the incoming chairman you have the very great  luxury of a  fresh start.  I urge you to use that luxury to signal a  new  ethos for the PCC by  acting upon my letters by answering the points I raise about Mr Black’s evidence before the committee  and by instigating investigations of Wade and Morgan.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————————————————-

From the Deputy Director

12 May 2003

Robert Henderson Esq

Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your letter of 28th April to the former Acting Chairman.

Professor Pinker left the post on 30th March.

The position regarding yqur complaint against the Daily Mirror  remains the  same as far as I can tell.  You have provided no reasons  why the Commission should look again at a matter that is several years old  and that the Commission has already decided not to pursue.

It also remains the case that the matter of payments to police officers is  something  for  the police themselves to investigate.  It is not something that is covered by the Code at the moment. There may be areas of  the Code  where there is a theoretical overlap  with   the law  – although  in  general the Code imposes standards on editors  over  and above legal requirements – but the Commission will not of course,  for very  obvious reasons,  investigate a matter that is the subject  of  a legal inquiry.
Neither will it investigate  complaints where it is more appropriate, in the Commission’s opinion, for the complainant to pursue an  alternative  legal remedy.   This certainly does not mean  that  it turns down every case where there is a theoretical alternative remedy, and in fact does so in  relatively few. Those cases,  such as your own, where  it does  conclude that it is not  appropriate to  proceed  are considered  individually by the Commission and on their merits.

l do hope this is helpful.

Yours sincerely

Tim Toulmin

1  Salisbury Square London EC4Y 8JB Telephone  020 7353  1248  Facsimile  020 7353 8355

—————————————————————————-
16 May  2003

Sir Christopher Meyer

Chairman

Press Complaints Commission

1 Salisbury Square

London EC4Y 8AE

cc  Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP,   Frank Doran MP,  John Thurso MP ,  Rosemary McKenna MP,  Alan Keen MP,  Derek Wyatt MP,  Debra Shipley MP,  Chris Bryant MP, Julie Kirkbride MP,   Michael Fabricant MP,  Adrian Flook MP, Presswise,   Sir Harry Roche (Pressbof)

Dear Sir Christopher,

I have just received a letter from your deputy director,  Tim   Toulmin,  in reply to my letters  of 2 and 28 April.

I suspect  that   my letter to you of the  12 May  was  the   catalyst for Mr Toulmin’s letter.  Useful  as any response is  from the PCC,   as much for what is not said as for what  is  said, I would ask you to reply personally to this letter and  my letter to you of 12 May and to send a copy of your  reply to the CMS committee.

Mr Toulmin states in his letter that cases refused because  a  legal alternative exists will be relatively few”.  This is a  considerable  movement from the statement of  your  director uy Black  before the CMS committee that it was the  norm to  refuse  such cases.

As I pointed out in my letters to  Prof Pinker,  Mr Black must have known this was untrue  when  he   made his  statement to the CMS committee.  You may  wish to consider whether a man who deliberately attempts to mislead a Parliamentary committee is the  type of character you wish to  have as your chief administrator.

The position for all complaints to the PCC should be  this.  Any complaint should be considered provided (1) no  criminal  investigation is being undertaken or(2) no writ for a  civil  action has been issued.  That is an objective test.  Anything else is merely a subjective  decision made at the whim of the  PCC administrators.

As for Mr Toulmin’s response to my complaints against Rebekah Wade and Piers Morgan,  Mr Toulmin’s claim that the  PCC Code  does not cover it is manifestly absurd.  The Code preamble begins “All members of the press have a duty to maintain  the highest  professional and ethical standards…”  Bribing  the  police  clearly breaches that, while  clause  7.iii) states   “Subterfuge can be justified only in the public interest  and  only when material cannot be obtained by any other  means.”

Clearly bribing  the  police can never  be  in the  public  interest.  Finally, clause 9 runs  “Payment  for articles  offers  of payment  for articles,  pictures or  information should   not be made directly or through agents to witnesses or potential   witnesses in current or criminal proceedings…”   Clearly many  of  the  police  passing  on information are potential witnesses.

Finally,  Mr Toulmin’s refusal to re-open my past  complaints  is based on the fact that I provide no new information   is  irrelevant.  The point is that  the complaints in 1995,  1997  and  1998   were  simply not   honestly   investigated   or  adjudicated.  They were simply refused for no good reason.  I ask you to review these complaints personally.  I also seek a  personal  interview with you to discuss the behaviourof  PCC  staff in dealing with my complaints which were all  serious and well documented and described.

You are appearing before the CMS committee on the 21 May.  I suggest   you address  the  general question  of   refusing complaints for reasons of potential legal opportunity and the PCC’s failure to address complaints against Wade and  Morgan   for the  clearest  breaches of  the  Code  by receiving  information illicitly from thepolice.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————————————————-
19 June  2003

Sir Christopher Meyer

Chairman

Press Complaints Commission

1 Salisbury Square

London EC4Y 8AE

cc  Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman MP,   Frank Doran MP,  John Thurso MP ,  Rosemary McKenna MP,  Alan Keen MP,  Derek Wyatt MP,  Debra Shipley MP,  Chris Bryant MP, Julie Kirkbride MP,   Michael Fabricant MP,  Adrian Flook MP, Presswise,   Sir Harry Roche (Pressbof)

Dear Sir Christopher,

I am still awaiting a reply to my letter of 16 May.  Were you merely  a private individual you would of course  have  the right to refuse to reply. But I am not writing to you in your capacity  as a  private individual but as  the head  of  a   quasi-public body.  In that position,  you should reply  to  correspondence as a matter of course. Please do so by return.

With regard  to  Rebekah Wade and  Piers  Morgan obtaining  information  illicitly, I refer you to proposal  30  in  the  Culture  Media and Sport select committee’s report  on  media  intrusion:

31.  We cannot see how the matter of illegal payments  to   policemen  can fail to fall within the criteria  set out  by the PCC for taking  the initiative,  or how the issue is different to the xample of illegal  telephone-tapping   highlighted by the Commission itself. We  believe the PCC must  investigate. This  may  be best  accomplished  in cooperation  with the Information Commissioner and  the Police  Complaints Authority and, if necessary, rsult in an addition to the Code (such asoccurred on intercepting  telephone calls).  (Paragraph 95)

I expect your early reply assuring me that Wade  and Morgan will be investigated.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————————————————-

I received no further response from the PCC – Robert Henderson  8 July 2011

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